Last week, I wrote about inspirational customer service. This weekend, the pendulum swung to the other extreme. I went out looking for new cars. No blog is long enough to contain my rant on how disfunctional the process of buying a car is, so I won’t go through the whole thing, but focus on a few low points-and not the lowest, I have to keep this reasonably civil.
On Saturday, I went to look for a new car, I had settled on 4 different models, done my research, knew what I wanted in each and what a fair price might be.
The first dealer, things started out great, he asked me what I wanted, showed me the car, answered all my questions expertly, then we start talking about the deal. Some manager, I hadn’t met, comes in to take over. He starts with “Are you committed to buying this car?” I was a little surprised, responded, “I’m interested enough to ask you to give me a serious proposal on what it would cost to get this car.” I had hoped he would read that signal and present me a price. His response, instead, was, “It doesn’t make sense for us to present a price until we know you are serious.” At this point, I’m starting to get a little angry (Why should buying a $100K car make me angry?). As calmly as I could, I responded, “I’ve come into your dealership and invested my time trying to buy a car. The lease on my current car is ending, I need a new car. I’ve told you exactly what I want, you have a car I like, now isn’t it reasonable for you to tell me how much it will cost?” I went on, “My time is valuable as is yours, I don’t want to waste it, so let’s try to get to your best offer as quickly as possible.” Well, he read my signals and said, “OK, I respect this, let me give you the best deal, we want you as a customer. Here’s what we can do….” I said, “Clearly, you must understand I’ve done a lot of research on the internet. This price is far above what the a good price is. If this is your best deal, I’m not sure it makes sense.” His response was, “Well we can do better on it, but we need to know that you are serious about buying the car.” I said, “How could I be any more serious than sitting here right now trying to understand what you are going to sell the car to me for? Thank you for your time, I take it this is your best offer, I am considering some other models, I will get back to you later.” “But Mr. Brock, please give me a chance…..” “I thought I was giving you a chance, I’m interested in buying this car, but I don’t know what the price is, I keep asking you, but you seem reluctant to answer my question, what am I missing?”
It couldn’t get worse than that. I went to the second dealership, after the test drive and the initial stuff, we went to the sales person’s office. I sat down, without a word, he walked out….OK I thought, he needs to get something….15 minutes later…I’d finished my obligatory bottle of water, I went to another sales person, “I seem to have lost my sales person, could you find him, I’d like to talk about buying a car.” 5 minutes later, he returns, I’ve found the perfect car for you. It’s got $10K more in features than I had asked for, I asked him what the features were, he refused to tell me, instead he said, “The features aren’t important, let’s talk about the deal.” “But, but…I’d really like to know about those features, I’m not sure I want them, I don’t know why I should buy a car with features I don’t want.” “Don’t worry about that Dave, here’s the deal……” At that point I apologize, “I’m sorry, clearly you don’t want to sell me what I want, thank you for your time.” I stood up and walked out. All of a sudden the sales manager comes up to me asking if he can help. “I responded, I have another appointment I have to be at, I sat 20 minutes waiting, your sales person won’t present me the car I want, I’m not sure you can. You have my email, if you want, you can email me an offer on the car I want to buy, that you have in stock.”
The other two dealers weren’t any better, fortunately they weren’t worse. I’d spent an entire day, talking to people who were selling me what they wanted to sell, not what I wanted to buy. I spent the entire day telling people I needed to make a decision on a car within a few days, the lease on my current car was ending. I tried to explaing that I had done my homework, I wasn’t necessarily looking for the “best deal” just a fair deal for both of us.
Sunday was month end. Early in the morning, the calls started coming in, “Mr. Brock, thank you for visiting us, we’re now prepared to have a serious discussion with you, can you come in?” My response was, “I thought we were having a serious discussion yesterday, why were you wasting my time?” Silence……. Each dealer seemed to be thinking the same thing, some tried to argue they could be serious now, none could explain why they couldn’t be serious when I was in the showroom.
It’s no wonder the automotive industry is in such trouble. The entire process is broken. It’s built on an old model of manipulating the consumer. It doesn’t recognize the impact of social media in helping make sure customers are informed. It’s not just a dealer problem, it’s also a result of the manufacturers, their policies, and how they train the dealers.
I’m a salesperson, I don’t begrudge a salesperson getting a commission or the dealer getting a profit, they have to. However, I resent having my time wasted, I resent being manipulated, I resent not being able to buy what I want to buy, but being pressured into buying what they want to buy.
There is a happy ending, yesterday a salesperson from another dealership called. I told him I was sick and tired of dealing with the manipulation. I told him what I was looking for, I told him I had shopped several dealers, I told him how frustrated and angry I was. I told him I wanted a fair deal for both of us and that he had one chance to present me a fair deal. He asked me if he could call me back in an hour to tell me what he could do. He presented me a good deal, yes I probably could have argued another $500-750 from him, but I felt good about the deal. We did the deal in about 20 minutes, all over the phone.
Postscript: The sales manager for the second dealer called me up today, apologizing for my experience. We had a good talk about what happened and my frustrations. Despite what happened, it takes courage for someone to admit they made an error. I really respect that. In the future I would try them again.